A platform built to simplify and automate story sharing in news collaboratives drove significant additional digital audiences to local news sites in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative, according to a new report from Distributed Media Lab.

Local Media Association received support from the Google News Initiative in Fall 2021 to explore how technology could be used to streamline and leverage the story-sharing benefits of news collaboratives, through its Covering Climate Collaborative. LMA worked with Distributed Media Lab to develop regional climate “collections” that featured the reporting of the 25 local newsrooms in the collaborative.

The opportunity — and the “problem to be solved” — was: Increase the reach and audience for quality local reporting on climate by leveraging the story-sharing advantages of a news collaborative, without getting bogged down by what is typically a slow and manual task of copying and pasting shared stories, which reduces the time available for creating original local reporting.

In practice, every step of story sharing in a news collaborative contains friction that slows the process:

  • Manually alerting groups about new content;
  • Copying and pasting into each proprietary content management system to use the content;
  • Chasing down images or video assets, confirming sharing rights, adding attribution, and so on.

DML teamed up with LMA and the newsrooms of the Covering Climate Collaborative to build a better way. Using Accelerated Mobile Pages, DML worked with newsrooms to automatically:

  • Tag and source local climate stories;
  • Sort and gather them automatically by region into four-story “collections” sorted by most recent first;
  • Make those collections easily embeddable across the websites of participating newsrooms.

In addition to automating the ingest and display of stories, the DML solution included another critical feature: Preserving authorship (and traffic “credit”) for the originating news site, while enabling a native user experience for a visitor on the partner’s site, so that someone visiting a site stays on that site to see the content, and it’s presented in its original look and feel.

“We believe a new approach to story sharing is fundamental to new ways of doing the news business on the web,” said Dave Gehring, CEO of Distributed Media Lab. “Using the DML platform to easily share important journalism is a start. Growing audiences to power new distributed media business models is what’s next. It’s exciting to play a role and an honor to support such important journalism.”

In June 2022, DML and LMA launched the story-sharing tool with 10 of the participants in the Covering Climate Collaborative. Newsrooms chose where and how they displayed the regional “collections” on their local websites, which could be included as footers on individual climate stories; as anchored placements on climate news sections; or in a weather section of the local news website. In practice, these local decisions about placement of the collections served as a useful, no-cost “A/B test,” both of which placements were most effective, and also of the larger question: How interested are local audiences in news about climate change?

In a new case study published by Distributed Media Lab, both questions appear to be answered decisively. DML data shows that news sites that placed the climate collections on their weather pages drove significant traffic. Further, having that content available and in front of audiences looking for weather confirmed that readers are interested in and will consume local reporting on climate change when it’s easy to find.

Not surprisingly, displays in high profile placements achieved the best results. More specifically, the DML case study found:

The most significant success story comes via Graham Media properties’ (KSAT, Click2Houston, ClickOrlando, New4Jax, ClickOnDetroit) evolution from embedding the collections on their “Forecasting Change” section to utilizing weather pages. The change took negligible impression numbers to a daily average between 5,000-6,000 and clickthrough rates from less than 0.5% to more than 3%, in the case of News4Jax. When severe weather struck, interest in the collection surged. During the week of Sept. 26, when Hurricane Ian made landfall, News4Jax had a 3.39% CTR and ClickOrlando had a 2.71% CTR, far higher than average.

Importantly, the DML data also shows high engagement rates across sites for local climate-change content:

Engagement rates are strong across the embedded network. Once readers click into the viewer, they read an average of 1.5 articles per session. Collaborativewide adoption and prominent collection placement would improve collection impressions and engagement rates.

Other findings from the DML case study including a list of top-performing content:

  • State power grid’s response to severe weather
  • Causes of climate change acceleration
  • Climate and hurricane season analysis/forecasts
  • U.S. government’s proposed climate solutions

The story-sharing collections also enable local stations to monetize this climate content through locally sold sponsorships. In addition, DML is exploring other monetization options including a centrally sold, revenue-share model.

The LMA Covering Climate Collaborative offers two ways for other local newsrooms to benefit. LMA is accepting letters of interest to join the collaborative from local newsrooms committed to reporting on climate change. If your newsroom regularly reports on climate change and effective responses, click here to learn more about joining the Covering Climate Collaborative.

Local newsrooms can also embed the five regional climate collections from our trusted local partners for free on their own news website. This gives any local newsroom the ability to offer their online audiences regular, locally relevant, trusted climate change reporting; and, the opportunity to locally sell sponsorships of those collections. Click here for instructions on how you can embed a LMA Covering Climate Collaborative regional story collection on your local news site.

To see the latest stories from across the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative, visit www.coveringclimate.org, also powered by DML.

About Distributed Media Lab

Distributed Media Lab, a leading content syndication platform for quality publishers and brands, provides hundreds of local news publishers with new revenue streams derived from an innovative approach to content marketing and distribution tailor made for the unique aspects of the open web. DML powers a unique content experience that benefits local publishers by bringing quality content from across the web to a consumer experience that maintains an audience onsite optimizing the publisher’s potential to monetize their quality and engaged audiences. For more information, visit www.distributedmedialab.com.

About Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative works side-by-side with publishers and journalists of all sizes to build a more sustainable, diverse and innovative news ecosystem. GNI offers a range of resources, products and digital expertise to support the advancement of quality journalism, stronger and more sustainable publisher business models and collaborative solutions that spur progress across the industry.

About Covering Climate Collaborative

The local news outlets in the LMA Covering Climate Collaborative include publishers recognized as leaders in local climate reporting, three TV broadcast groups, multiple public radio stations, as well as digital-native climate websites. The partners are grouped into five regional hubs.

East/Southeast includes The News & Observer (N.C.), The Post & Courier (S.C.), The Miami Herald, WJCT Radio, WJXT-TV Jacksonville, WKMG-TV Orlando, and Florida International University’s South Florida Media Network (Fla.).

The Gulf Coast group includes The Times-Picayune and WWNO/WRKF Radio (La.), KPRC-TV Houston, and KSAT-TV San Antonio (Texas).

In the Great Lakes, WBEZ Chicago (Ill.), Great Lakes Echo at Michigan State University, Planet Detroit, and WDIV-TV (Mich.).

In the Southwest, participants include ABC15-TV (Phoenix, AZ), ASU/Cronkite News (Phoenix, AZ), The Paper (Albuquerque,NM) and NMPBS (N.M.).

The West includes The Sacramento Bee, KGO-TV San Francisco, Southern California Public Radio (Calif.), KGW-TV (Portland, Ore.) and Investigate West (Wash.).